When a game is also a game engine

So Warcraft III Reforged just released, and Blizzards fans are kinda angry. Partly because the visual improvements aren’t as great as they were hyped up to be, but more interestingly, the remaster’s licensing agreement indicates that all custom user-created maps become the intellectual property of Blizzard.

This policy was in all likelihood inspired by the surprising success of DOTA, which started off as a custom map in the original Warcraft III. By implementing such a policy, Blizzard guarantees that should any cool ideas come out of the game’s community, they would be only ones with the ability to fully commercial exploit said idea.

When is a game not just a game? When is a game also a game engine? Mods have always occupied a strange grey area in terms of copyrights and IP ownership, yet it can be argued that this ambiguity is what allows interesting mods like DOTA or Counter-Strike to percolate to the top and emerge as full games in their own right. Blizzard’s policy draws a line in the sand, giving legal clarity where there once was not, but at the same time the legal territory they have drawn for themselves extends far and wide.

A simple compromise would be similar to what Valve allows for Source Engine games. Allow distribution of mods non-commercially, but require a licensing agreement for commercial distribution. In such a scenario, ownership of mods remain with the creator, and they have the ability to choose the best way forward for their project. Under Blizzard’s policy, your cool custom map can be yanked away from you without your consent.

How many map creators would see this policy and hesitate? How many cool map ideas would never be made? The original Warcraft III was an amazing bastion for this sort of thing. Warcraft III custom maps ran the gamut from party games to multiplayer RPGs to tower defense games to game adaptations of films to third person shooters. The remaster will have none of this.